My MonWHO diary

Hi everybody! I’m Jian Feng, first year University of Montreal medical student, and I had a positively enriching experience at MonWHO (Montreal World Health Organization simulation). I came to MonWHO with a lot of experience working on sexual health issues, having participated in the SCORA sessions during the IFMSA Regional Meeting in Peru this year (which really motivated my decision to sign up for MonWHO) and being actively involved within my local SCORA committee as a Local Officer and Sexperts trainer. However, the WHO simulation was a completely different game. The approach was far more macroscopic, attempting to draw out resolutions that would be applicable to and/or benefit all countries

Preparation

I chose to represent Uruguay because of my RM experience. Uruguay is a pioneer among Latin American countries in regards to sexual and reproductive health. It is the only country in South America where abortion and same-sex marriage are legal. Uruguay rates high for most development indicators and is known for its secularism, liberal social laws, and well-developed social security, health, and educational systems. I felt that the country’s values were more in sync with my own and that it would be easier to adopt such a position. However, over the course of the simulation, I felt that those who stood out the most were those who were able to get out of their comfort zone and defend strong contrasting stances like the delegate of the United Sates and the delegate of the United Kingdom. For my research, I divided it according to the major themes in sexual health, notably reproductive health (abortion and contraception), gender-based violence and LGBTQ+ rights. In addition to all this research, I contacted one of my law school friends who did NMUN (National Model United Nations) in cegep to inquire about the redaction of a position paper and the functioning of a simulation.

Saturday

Since I had afternoon classes on Friday, I had to miss the first Regional Block. Coming in, Saturday, I was utterly lost and confused. Despite all my preparation, the conference room, aswarm with delegates, was a bit intimidating. Everyone was minding their own business, busy writing notes or drafting out working papers and I almost felt like I had missed out on too much to enjoy the simulation experience. I had no idea of what had already been started the previous day and I just tried to put myself physically out there. I joined in on groups even though I had not been following the conversation and, soon enough, the delegates started to include me. Guatemala and Chile were very interested in presenting their working paper and had me join in as signatory. I gradually got involved and by the third regional block, I was actively participating, questioning the feasibility of certain measures and giving my support to other working papers such as the one on sex trafficking and underage prostitution presented by Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay since Uruguay has many cross-border problems with Brazil regarding drug smuggling and forced prostitution. I was expecting to discuss more about my country’s sexual health issues, namely obstetric violence, teenage pregnancy and STI surveillance, with congenital syphilis and gonorrhoea on the rise in Uruguay but I did not end up sponsoring any working paper on said topics since, by the time I had gotten the hang of things, it was too late to include these subjects in the already passionate debates on the working papers submitted.

Sunday

Plenaries were a lot of fun as each delegate gets to exchange and hear about countries from other regional blocks. The first session started Saturday where the African block presented its two resolutions. Discussions about resolutions become ever more passionate in plenaries. It’s also the perfect time to be even more lost. Many delegates discuss among themselves prior to presenting their resolution, fine-tune their paper, make last-minute amendments, debate on mergers, etc.; delegates not sponsoring any draft resolution can feel a bit left out during unmoderated caucus frenzies. Plenaries are punctuated by ludicrous news capsules, conferences and crises. Crises are made-up invents set to trigger a reaction and call for immediate response. I like the idea but the crisis took a lot of time away from the presentation of resolution papers. Furthermore, the case presented was medically unsound (a virus systematically targeting gay military officers) and confusing (United Kingdom made allegations about how the crime was staged and I thought I had to take their word for it since the delegate must have gotten a memo from the crisis team). It did not lead to any real resolution since each country maintained its right to handle the matter to their discretion and, in the end, we didn’t even know or resolve under whose jurisdiction the victim, both a Malawi and a British national, fell under. Because of time constraints, caucus time kept being cut down and voting procedures were conducted under 15 minutes. We voted on 4 resolutions (many resolutions got merged, considering there was never going to be enough time to present them) and all but the last one passed. At the end of the day, this WHO simulation experience was very enjoyable. It allowed me to realize how complex and intricate the political machine is and how procedural the international meetings are, always going from motion to caucus, which is both a good and bad thing.

To conclude, a few tips:

  1. Even if you prepare well, what happens on the spot can be quite different. Many delegates have much more experience and will fly past you to reach their goals. It is important to seize any opportunity to talk to make a good impression. Once you break the ice, intervening will come more naturally and other delegates will come to you.
  2. Do your research. Even on the spot, during crises, look up information. The delegate of the United States regularly googled statistics and law articles to support her many claims in speeches. “Knowledge is power”, to quote Littlefinger in Game of Thrones. Know the other countries stances by sending notes.
  3. It is normal to be lost at times (or many times in my case). Not missing any regional block definitely helps and put points of inquiry and points of personal interest to good use.